TV historian reflects on impact of “Seinfeld”

Jennifer Armstrong shows clips of various “Seinfeld” episodes during her lecture “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything” in Founders on Tuesday, May 2. Photo by Stefan Carlson

Jennifer Armstrong shows clips of various “Seinfeld” episodes during her lecture “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything” in Founders on Tuesday, May 2. Photo by Stefan Carlson

By Roxanne Timan, Multimedia Editor

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, New York Times Bestselling author and “Seinfeld” historian, suggested that “TV changes people’s minds more than yelling at them” during her May 2 lecture in Founder’s Lounge.

Armstrong expressed her passion for TV and its impact on audiences in her lecture for the promotion of her book, “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything”, a part of the Roland Quest Lecture series. 

Armstrong opened her lecture with an explanation of the show’s endearing qualities. 

“The show isn’t based on nothing. It’s mostly based on the lives of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David,” she said, as she changed the perspective of the show for the audience. “Each story has a bit of truth, based on a simple situation the two blew out of proportion.” 

Though some situations like “the Soup Nazi” are a bit too wacky to be a part of everyday life, others, such as the “J. Peterman Reality Bus Tour” was an actual scenario put together by the man who inspired the character of Kramer.

Because the show is so similar to reality, people are able to relate to the show’s characters. This enables people to safely discuss some of the important topics that the show covers. 

“[Audiences] either have to know somebody or they have to feel something for a character. TV also allows us to have those discussions without making it as confrontational. Like, ‘what did you think of that Saturday Night Live sketch?’” Armstrong prompted in an interview with The Leader.

Though “Seinfeld” ended around 20 years ago, Armstrong felt the need to write the book because the show’s continued impact on our culture. The presentation was framed around classic moments from the show and gave the audience a window into the world of Seinfeld through Armstrong’s eyes. 

“[The show] has impacted so many aspects of our lives, the jokes of ‘airing our grievances’ and the ‘Soup Nazi’ we still hear today,” Armstrong said to a full crowd, noting the undying references from the nine seasons of the series. 

One of the main cultural artifacts from the show is the celebration of Festivus, a made-up holiday by one of the main character’s father. Festivus entails a decorative metal “Festivus” pole, the airing of grievances over dinner and feats of strength, which is the head of the household being pinned in a wrestling match.

Cultural phenomenons like Festivus show that “Seinfeld’s” influence expands way past the original generation it was created under, Armstrong explained.  

“There was girl who I met on tour who celebrated Festivus for all four years of college, unaware where it came from, just thinking it was a Greek holiday,” Armstrong joked. “When she posted about it on twitter, she was bombarded with people telling her it was from ‘Seinfeld,’ and she started watching.” 

Armstrong spoke on the changes in how TV with the emergence of streaming services and what is next for television. 

“I think [streaming shows] changes the way you watch TV a lot, doesn’t it? If I’m getting lost in the weeds, I try not to get bogged down with trivia about shows which is fine that people do, but I’m more interested in with ‘Seinfeld’, why is it so important to us and how does it affect our everyday life, you know?”